Every time I see the Rev. Jeremiah P. Wright holding forth on TV, I think of Jimmy Carter and Zell Miller.
All three angry men have spent the latter parts of their careers railing against former allies and sullying their own national reputations.
As you may know, pastor Wright, longtime and onetime spiritual adviser to presidential candidate Barack Obama, has been revealed as a strident critic of the United States, a nation damned by the minister for its alleged terrorist activities. The discovery of Wright and his radical views inflicted a serious wound on the presidential campaign that Sen. Obama once had a good shot of winning.
When Obama tried to brush off Wright as a bit off his rocker but a swell guy nevertheless, Wright came roaring back with more vitriol for America and plenty of anger aimed at his candidate.
Wright made a tour of the national talking-heads circuit to defend himself - a journey that might as well have been financed by the GOP. Republican stock shot up with every Wright appearance.
There's a parallel here with former Sen. Miller, once king of the Democrats. In 2000, Gov. Roy Barnes was roundly applauded when he appointed Miller, a Democrat, to succeed Republican U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, who died in office. Barnes' supporters said the appointment of Miller was truly smart politics. Miller could be re-elected easily at home and would add muscle to Georgia's clout in Washington. Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle even phoned Barnes to urge the appointment of Miller to add stature to the Democratic caucus.
Miller was a dedicated lifelong populist Democrat, or so everyone thought. Once in Washington and safely on his way to re-election, Miller took a page straight from Jeremiah P. Wright's yet-to-be-published playbook. Miller attacked his Democratic mentors and refused to help his protégés. He assailed the national Democratic Party for policies that he said undermined the nation, but he maintained his hold on the national spotlight by refusing to quit the party. He became the turncoat who would not quite turn.
While much of his criticism was valid, Miller's public donkey flailings appeared carefully staged to inflict as much damage as possible on the foes of George W. Bush and the allies of his old friends, Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Shortly after Miller exploded on the Washington scene and even challenged a TV correspondent to a duel, former Georgia Sen. Wyche Fowler happened to see Sen. Hillary Clinton at a reception. "What in the world has happened to Zell?" Sen. Clinton asked. Fowler had no answer.
Former President Carter is the other maverick in this troublemaking troika. Carter won't stay put. He meddles in politics around the globe. If the policy of the United States is to shun North Korea, the former president flies off to meet with that outcast nation's leaders.
If the United States decides not to talk with the Arab terrorist group, Hamas, Carter concludes that he should powwow with them.
As a result of his one-man foreign policy tours, Carter has been frozen out of the Bush Clinton & Bush presidential club that meets regularly for golf and brunch. Carter is just not one of the boys, though he is recognized throughout much of the world for his good deeds in combating disease and political corruption.
Looking back over the wild and wooly careers of Wright, Miller and Carter, one is likely to lament their recent activities.
"Perhaps all three contributed something to the commonweal in their earlier years," one might contemplate, "but the world would now be a better place if these three flap-jaws decided to play by the rules and stay in bounds."
On the other hand, this country thrives on dissent. We came into being as a nation because we did not want to kowtow to our more mature British brethren.
Our history is filled with great men who refused to follow the flow and broke ranks to vent their spleens.
To be sure, Carter, Wright and Miller have irritated many. The first two have even tried to pull the nation off its present course. Perhaps they ought to be venerated for much of what they have said and done. Couldn't they also settle down and behave themselves once in a while?
Carter has earned his place in history. The U.S. Senate will never forget Miller, and Wright deserves an entire chapter in any upcoming history of the 2008 presidential election. What more could they want?
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Web address: billshipponline.com.